December 1st, 2010

Opting out of body scanners, and other trip vignettes

Today I flew from Heathrow to London, via Chicago. I had to clear immigration and customs in Chicago then re-clear security to get to my final flight, and there was a terminal change involved. It was a bit of a tight connection, but I made it.

When I hit the priority security line in Chicago I was waved toward what looked like a full body scanner. I clarified that's what it was, then said that on the advice of my physician I chose not to use the scanner. "If you don't go through the scanner, you'll have to go through a full pat-down." I said I was fine with that.

They waved me over to a female TSA agent, who asked if this was my first pat-down and then walked me through what the process would be. She also said that I had the option of a private pat-down if I would prefer.. ("No thank you. I'm comfortable doing this in public.") She was professional and communicative, and explained at each step what would be happening. "I'll be using the back of my hand for this. Now I'll be doing this and using the front of my hand."

She changed her gloves before the pat-down, which given that it's an over-the-clothes pat-down (except for the waist band) seems unnecessary to me, but I've seen others mention it negatively. As advertised, she felt her way up my legs "until I meet resistance". I can see how this would bother some people, but I'm comfortable with it. It took maybe two minutes more than the body scanner would have.

I asked her if they'd been getting lots of abuse and hassle from people over this, and she said no. I'm happy to hear that-- the agents are just doing their job, and not setting policy.

Overall, I was treated with respect and courtesy, and responded in kind.

A bit of family history: I have a half-sister on my father's side-- her name is Terri, and she's about six years older than me.

Terri's mother died shortly after she was born. A few years later, my mother married our father and they had me. My parents divorced shortly after I was born, and my father died when I was a few years old. I don't think I ever met him (infancy notwithstanding.) Terri and I didn't grow up together, but saw each other a few times a year for holidays, etc.

My plan for this trip was to go to New York Sat-Wed, fly to London on Thursday and then come home on Sunday. Terri and her husband were arriving in London on Sunday, though, so I extended the trip a couple of days to hang out with them.

We had a great good time. I let them take the lead in terms of tourist stuff, since they'd never been there before, and we wound up at the Imperial War Museum and the Tower of London. If you know me at all, you can well imagine that a war museum is the last place on earth I would ever choose to go, but I was game-- I figured I'd turn my geek on to full blast, and ignore the fact that much of the technology was aimed at killing people. The whole thing was creepy and disturbing, as expected, but intellectually it was a very well-done museum.

We also wound up at the Tate Modern. They have a couple of cool exhibits right now, including a very extensive Gauguin collection. The fun one is a hundred million ceramic reproductions of sunflower seeds, spread out over a large area. It sounds weird, but it's actually a really neat exhibit.

For my birthday (in NY), we went to the Museum of Natural History then to dinner with a coworker of mine. When we left the museum we had a hard time finding a cab, and a limo driver approached us and offered us a ride. "Ten dollars per person. I'll take you." Sure, what the heck. I was thinking town car, but we actually wound up in the back of a white stretch Hummer that seated about 16, and had color-changing disco lights. The whole thing was insane, and we just kept giggling as we cruised through Manhattan rush hour. The best part was when the driver got pulled over. He said he didn't get a ticket, but I'm not sure I believe him.'

After a lovely dinner we went to a local steakhouse that was reported to have a great scotch collection. I manhandled the 200+ bottle scotch list and had a couple of wonderful things, including a 30-year-old Brora and a 28-year-old Port Ellen. Both are rare, expensive, and worth the price.

It was weird, though. I'm used to letting a certain someone have his way with the wine list when we go out. As soon as we wound up with a scotch list in front of us, though, I was in charge. It amused me to see the dynamic change so quickly and thoroughly.

Tonight when I got home I realized I had nothing in the house for dinner, so I went downstairs to Chop Bar to grab food and a couple of drinks. Much to my amusement, governor-elect Jerry Brown was sitting about five feet away from me.

I really enjoy Chop Bar's new cocktail menu. (hic!)

I've now had four drinks, which should put me to sleep nicely and help me get over jet lag. 'night all.

Fabulously Awful musical

Every year when I go to London, I swing by Dress Circle, a theater-specific music store in the west end. It's a lot of fun, and I've found some obscure stuff there. This year, I was perusing the CDs and came across CHiPS, The Musical. I did what anyone would do in this situation-- I bought it.

I am happy to report that it is even more fabulously awful than I'd expected. Wow. Just wow. It's all that and a large side of fries.

Much to my surprise, it's new-- it was first staged a few months ago. I'm sorry I missed it.

Here's a trailer on YouTube.